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"Now we have choices." But these relationships aren't always portrayed in a positive light.

Terms like "cougar" (slang for an older woman seeking a younger man) depict the woman as a predator, rather than an empowered, independent and loving person.

But high-profile Hollywood couples like Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (12 years her junior) -- who met and began dating while filming an on-screen romance in the 1988 movie "Bull Durham" -- have proven that life can indeed imitate art when it comes to matters of the heart.

Theirs, however, is a real-life love story of an older woman and younger man -- something that is not so uncommon nowadays.

“The mature woman focuses less on trying to win a man over and more on enjoying the company of a man who’s sexy, fun, smart, and grounded, no matter his age.”Dating younger guys isn’t just not a bad idea — it’s a really good idea. Emma admits that a few of her friends have given her a hard time about it, mostly because the guys she dates aren’t as “accomplished” as she is.

"Societal attitudes have definitely changed," says Susan Winter, 52, co-author of "Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance" -- and she would know. "But (that kind of discrimination) would not be allowable now." Hollywood in particular has defied the ageism stereotype, with celebrities like Madonna and Demi Moore marrying significantly younger men (a 10- and 15-year age gap, respectively, with director Guy Ritchie and actor Ashton Kutcher), and the public has come to accept it.And I think that's a very common fantasy for young men." The potential issues between such May-December couples are the same ones that challenge the longevity of any relationship: different long-term priorities and emotional temperament."He's not thinking about kids and marriage," says Pender of her boyfriend, "and he bugs me when I forget to dye my gray roots." If you can work through these issues, the adage holds true: Age ain't nothing but a number.Moreover, says Winter, women have experienced a significant financial and status shift over the past half-century."When women as a group are able to have their own economic and social standing and have a power base, they are now able to pick the man that they want rather than having to choose the man to support them and give them social status," Winter explains.

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